The metaverse was supposed to change everything. That was the claim, at least. A couple of years ago it was very much the talk of the town in Silicon Valley and became Mark Zuckerberg’s choice darling, but it now seems that Big Tech’s affair with virtual reality was short-lived, or at least will need to be shelved for the foreseeable future.
Why? What happened? Well, a couple of things. First of all, the economy slowed down, COVID hit, and later, executives wanted workers to return to the office for work. The metaverse was supposed to be a way to achieve total remote work, but apparently, not every company is interested in that setup. Combined with major layoffs at Zuckerberg’s Meta, the metaverse took some big hits. John Herrman writes in the Intelligencer,
What was unusual about the metaverse from the outside, circa 2021, was how little it offered to anyone but executives, who alternated between hyping it as imminent, far-off, or as already existing in games like Roblox, which was news to the millions of people playing them. It felt uncanny and hollow, and when people stopped talking about it so much, nobody who wasn’t directly invested seemed to care. It’s true that Silicon Valley has shifted its attention to AI, but what really killed the metaverse was workers returning to the office. In 2022, outside of tech, major firms that had shifted to remote work started demanding employees come back. In the tech industry, which has traditionally been fairly amenable to remote work, a season of brutal layoffs was accompanied by more stringent return-to-office plans.-John Herrman, The Metaverse Was a Ridiculous Idea. Where Did It Come From? (nymag.com)
Then, queue 2022, and the AI hype has taken everyone by storm. Since last November, Big Tech organizations like Google and Microsoft have scrambled to keep up with AI models like ChatGPT. We’ve been calling it the “AI arms race.” Herrman continues to comment that AI is the next “executive fantasy,” here to supplant the delusion of the metaverse:
It’s fitting that Sam Altman, OpenAI CEO and the avatar of the industry’s next executive fantasy, is the one who wants to bury the last one. “I think definitely one of the tech industry’s worst mistakes in a long time was that everybody could go full remote forever,” he said in an interview this week. “I would say that the experiment on that is over, and the technology is not yet good enough that people can be full remote forever.”
Given Zuckerberg’s uncanny devotion to his fantasy project, it’s probable he will keep trying to push for its success. It just doesn’t seem like many other people are as interested.